How to Drive a Manual Transmission

While many 4×4 vehicles are no longer offered today with a standard or manual transmission, being able to drive a stick-shift is a very helpful skill that everyone should have. Driving a vehicle with a manual transmission is a very fun experience and allows you to have more control and responsiveness over the vehicle. Besides the enjoyment you’ll receive driving one, there are other added benefits including improved gas mileage, better control of RPM range and a greater coolness factor! Even if you don’t have or are planning on buying a truck or SUV with a manual gearbox, it’s still good to know in case you end up in a foreign country or have to drive a friend’s vehicle.

Before learning how to drive a vehicle with a manual transmission, it is helpful to understand how a transmission operates so you can be familiar with what exactly you are telling the vehicle to do.  A transmission is the link between the motor and the gears that helps drive the vehicle giving it torque and power, which allows you to attain higher and lower speeds. Most modern manual transmission cars will have between 5 and 6 gears and a reverse gear. The drive controls the gears with a clutch pedal and a shift knob and is his/her job to decide when to change gears.

The very first step to driving a manual transmission is to turn on the car. In an automatic vehicle, the car is turned on while in the “Park” position. With a manual, it doesn’t matter which gear the vehicle is in as long as the clutch pedal is depressed, which is needed to start.  The clutch is the pedal on the left of the brake and is the direct link between the transmission and the engine. In order to move the vehicle, you must put the car in gear (once the car is on). To do this, you will need to press the clutch pedal and move the shifter into the first gear. Every time you want to upshift or down shift, you will need to press down on the clutch. As long as the clutch is depressed, the car will be in neutral and will not stall.

The trick to moving the vehicle forward without stalling is to find at which point the clutch pedal catches the transmission as well as balancing the amount of gas to clutch you need to apply. To help find the point at which the clutch engages and how fast it does so, start by removing your foot slowly off the clutch pedal (make sure you’re on a flat portion of road). The key is to allow the vehicle to slowly start to creep forward. If you feel any shuttering of the gears, you’re engaging the clutch too quickly and the car will stall. Either apply more pressure on the clutch and continue slower, or press down all the way and start over. If you successfully start to move the car forward with your foot completely off the clutch pedal, you’re ready to practice more and start using the gas pedal now.

Using just the clutch pedal to move the car forward isn’t the most ideal way to always start from a stop, but it’s a good way to help train yourself on how sensitive the clutch is. Once you’ve experienced how the clutch feels, you can now start to use the gas to help move you forward more rapidly. As you start to release pressure on the clutch, simultaneously apply pressure on the gas pedal.  If you’re not sure how much gas to apply, a good reference is to look at your vehicles tachometer and keep an eye on the engine’s rotations per minute (RPM’s). On most offroad vehicles, a good RPM point will be around 2000 to start disengaging the clutch pedal. Finding a nice balance between the two pedals is important and will take a lot of practice. Keep practicing starting from a stop until you’re confident you can start changing gears.

To change gears, you’ll need to be familiar with where each gear is located on the shifter. Shifters are designed in an “H” pattern designed with first gear at the top, second on the bottom, third at the top, and so on. If you’re not sure where each gear is, practice shifting before moving the vehicle. You’ll know when it’s time to change gears when tachometer indicates that the RPM’s are starting to increase. Once it’s time, push in the clutch and take your foot off the gas pedal. Change gears on the shifter and then smoothly release the pressure off the clutch, and apply a little gas to maintain your speed. You’ll continue this process throughout the gears until you’ve reached your desired speed. When it’s time to slow down and move to a lower gear, you’ll continue the same process of pushing in the clutch, changing gears and slowly releasing the pressure off the clutch pedal.

And that’s it to driving a manual transmission! 4×4 service is less expensive on the transmission, the gas mileage savings will be great and you’ll have much more fun. It takes a lot of practice and will take some time to get a feel for the clutch pedal, but once you learn you’ll never want to go back to an automatic!

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